Could anthrax be the silent killer lurking in your herd?

New cases of anthrax in swine have been identified in Romania. The Pig Site takes a look at the clinical signs, prevention, management, and treatment of this highly infectious disease
calendar icon 13 August 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

Reports have emerged from Romania indicating that anthrax has been identified in a small pig herd and there are concerns that the highly infectious, virulent bacterium may spread to other animals, including humans in contact with the herd.

The disease was identified on a small family farm in the town of Saveni, Botosani county, near Romania’s border with Moldova. Romanian authorities were notified immediately and, subsequently, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) were alerted to the outbreak.

Biosecurity measures have been put in place to combat the further spread of the disease, along with the controls being put in place for African swine fever – a disease that, this year alone, has claimed around 50,000 pigs in the Tulcea county of Romania.

Anthrax is an uncommon disease of pigs in most parts of the world but is notifiable in the EU where cases have been identified before.

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis which can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, inhalation of spores, ingestion of contaminated feed or injection with a contaminated needle. Upon germination of the spores in the body, bacilli release proteins which can interact with each other synergistically to form damaging toxins. These toxins can cause tissue destruction, bleeding and death of the host if untreated.

Anthrax should be suspected if post-mortem examination shows copious blood tinged-mucus and large haemorrhagic lymph nodes under the skin of the neck and in the abdomen. The post-mortem examination should be discontinued immediately, and veterinary help sought if this is the case.

Clinical signs

  • Sudden death.
  • Acute illness: lethargy, inappetence, trembling, staggering, convulsions.
  • Skin lesions.
  • Swollen discoloured neck.
  • Blue skin.
  • Bloody faeces.
  • Haemorrhage from the nose.
  • Fever.
  • Respiratory distress.

Top husbandry tips for preventing anthrax and other bacterial diseases

• Annual vaccination has proven effective in preventing the disease in both pigs and humans, if permitted in your country.

• One of the primary causes of anthrax in swine is contaminated feed or water. Take care to effectively disinfect all feeding and drinking equipment as part of your on-farm bio-security procedures (even in absence of disease), and wear gloves and face masks if any disease is suspected.

• Report any sudden illness in areas most at risk from anthrax and other contagious diseases to your local agricultural authority.

• Until post-mortem or disposal can be completed, isolate and completely cover carcasses as flies can transmit the disease.

• Dispose of all animal carcasses as soon as post-mortem has been completed through the most practical, government-approved method.

• Provide information to stockworkers and anyone entering the farm about the risks of anthrax to both pigs and humans, and how to prevent cross-contamination.

• Always check with farm visitors if they have visited other farms in recent weeks and whether those farms have a history of (or current cases of) infectious diseases. Ensure satisfactory disinfection of clothing and equipment that they are bringing on site.

If you are worried about sickness in your herd, do not hesitate to call your local vet

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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